Saturday, August 29, 2015

Little but Magical Changes

I may be in the minority here, but I am a firm believer that even if you don't change your classroom theme for the new school year, there should be something new.  I don't want my new students to just fall into the empty spaces left behind by my last students.  I want my new students to notice differences, be intrigued by the changes, feel like they matter enough for me to make changes.  Because they do.  I believe they deserve something they can call their own.

I didn't make any huge changes for this year, but there are small things here and there that I changed just enough to create wonder and excitement.

Flying ear hats!  My super creative mom helped come up with the idea and my handy dandy daddy did the hard work: hanging up my ear hats!  Last year they sat on top of my cabinets.  This year, they're flying above them!  It's fun when the air conditioning kicks in because the hats move like they're floating. :)

More pillows/rugs!  To help encourage my students to take advantage of my alternative seating arrangement and provide them with comfortable options, I bought more pillows!  I never realized how expensive pillows are, but I got lucky and found some fun, inexpensive, Disney themed ones.  The only problem with more pillows is a place to put them!  Last year my 7 pillows (and two rugs) fit perfectly on my low square table, but the additions took much more space than that.  I re-purposed my supply crates from last year and have now created an out of the way home for the pillows.  (If only the class could put them back as neatly as I do!)

The pillow crates are under the counter by the round table.
New seating options!  My last class LOVED my two big bean bag much so that both of them exploded in the last week of school. :( My classroom said goodbye to the bean bag chairs and my search for new seating began.  Lucky for me, my sister (also a teacher) switched grades this year and no longer had space in her classroom for this fun striped saucer chair!  And to top it off, the bench by the window is a toy chest/bench that we've had at home since I got my very first desk set (all of which is now in my classroom!).  Great storage, great seating, and free!

More fun decorations!  Disneyland is celebrating it's 60th anniversary right now and I would highly recommend you go if you can!  As part of the 60th celebration they are selling popcorn buckets shaped like the Mickey head balloons.  These are clearly a must have for my classroom!  I still need to get the third one (red), but I love how fun they look "floating" into the sky.

I also came across this awesome photo booth kit.  It came complete with two frames and six props.  These made for some great, fun first day of school pictures!

An expanded classroom library!  I'm not sure how, but I seem to have gained a ton of books over the summer.  YAY!  I bought the six square shelving unit from Target to house my series and LOVE it.  I like how organized it looks and being able to keep each series together.  I also bought more baskets like the ones on top of my shelves (Big Lots) for certain types of books and placed them on the shelves.  This is my effort to keep my classroom library as organized as possible...but then the kids attack! ;)

Ride posters!  I've been hanging on to my set of incredible Disneyland posters until I could find a good place for them to go...and I'm finally starting to get them placed poster by poster.  Last year I had maps of Disneyland and California adventure under the question, but with the placement of my chrome book cart there, there wasn't going to be enough space and I didn't want it to look cluttery.  I thought these three posters would be great with the question because each has to do with the question in some way: the wildest ride in the wilderness, the happiest cruise that ever sailed 'round the world, and the train that can take you all around Disneyland.  It's up to them how they want to start!

Awesome easel!  This might be my new favorite thing.  I bought this easel at Ikea ($14.99!) because I am going to need something for my chart tablets during my mini-lessons for writing (we're starting Lucy Calkins).  Now that I have it, I love how I can use it for everything!!  It has a chalkboard, whiteboard, roll of paper (for when I get super creative?), and a small shelf below the whiteboard.  We use it every day and it's fabulous!

Magnetic letters!  Ok, so this may not really have anything to do with classroom these magnetic letters are awesome!  They're a fun way to add some color to your whiteboard and create titles/labels/etc. that are purposeful and easy to see.

You know, Disneyland Tokyo, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Avo*! (*Abbreviated school name)

New chairs!  Found these puppies at Ikea as well.  Ten bucks!  I bought two and the kids LOVE them!  They are another fun alternative to sitting in a normal chair at a desk all day.

The most awesome chair I could've ever asked for!  I wanted a director's chair for my birthday so my family teamed up: my parents bought the chair and the canvas and my sister decorated it with her amazing artist skills!  Holy moly it's amazing and more than anything I could've imagined!  It's such a happy thing to have right up front in my classroom; a great reminder that even on the roughest days, I still have so much to be amazed by!

And of course: Cinderella!  One of my students gave this life size Cinderella to me at the end of last year...and she's AWESOME!  The only problem is that she kinda takes up a lot of space, and I don't want her to get banged up by children!  (Or me, since I tripped on her on the first day of school and she almost fell on a student...Cinderella attack!)  I've had her out for about a week, but I think it's time for her to go back to the castle for a bit.  I think she'll come visit once in a while as a special treat instead of being a permanent fixture.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Changing Gears

We have just finished our first full week of school and we are already in full swing!  I can tell this is going to be a great year with a class full of unique and wonderful personalities!  This being my second year of teaching, it's the first time I've parted with a class at the end of one year and started with a new class at the beginning of the next.

My first class was one for the books.  Holy moly.  My first year of teaching exceeded my expectations and left me feeling blessed.  We had something truly special: there was a level of trust I've never seen among a group of kids before, we laughed, we cried, we learned about ourselves, we learned how to just be.  And boy oh boy did that lead to a very difficult and very emotional end of the year for all of us!  My 23 Mouseketeers and I shared a very teary goodbye on a sunny afternoon in June.

Then all of the sudden, there were 25 brand new faces staring at me one sunny August morning.  And they are not last year's class.  They are this year's class.  (And last year's class was my first class, there will never be another one of those...just like this year's is my second class and there will never be another one of it!)  As we've gotten to know each other over the past week I've discovered that I am just as blessed to be learning alongside some incredible kids once again.  Notice the word learning: first I wrote teaching, then changed it to leading, and finally landed on learning.  No matter how much I teach my students, or how well I lead them, what matters most is that we learn together.

Now to the real inspiration for this post: changing gears from the end of one year to the beginning of the next.

This is something no one warned new teachers about!  You leave one class ready for the next grade.  Then you start the next class with students who just finished the grade level before yours.  Last year's third graders were basically 4th graders when school ended!  This year's third graders are basically 2nd graders right now!  Little 4th graders to big 2nd graders.  That's a BIG difference.  It may be a big difference, but it definitely is a fun adventure!  Although it was nice to have everything dialed in last year and know what to expect every day, a new group of kids is keeping me on my feet!  I get to do the beginning of the year again, but this time, I've actually done it before!  This year is for repeating what I loved, changing what I didn't, and taking notes for my third beginning of the year.

I'm really looking forward to what this year, and this group of kids, will bring.  Right now I have to keep reminding myself that we are learning how to be in 3rd grade right now.  We are learning new routines, how to use the classroom, how to be just a little bit older, we are learning a lot!  And we have all the potential of reaching the level of trust last year's class had, but it's only been 7 days.  There's a reason we aren't there yet.  But we will be.  Soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No Assigned Seats?! - Starting the Year

I decided to forgo the traditional idea of desks over Spring Break last year.  I had a perfect group of kids to try my new ideas out on, a group that was cohesive and well trained.  Which means next week will be the first time I'm starting a school year with an alternative seating arrangement.  Yikes?  Not sure.  So far, it seems manageable, so I'm just going to go with that. :)

While many people may look at this as scary (or even crazy), I'm seeing it as an opportunity to launch into an entire school year like nothing my students have ever seen before.  Can you imagine walking into your third grade classroom and, for the first time ever, being allowed (and encouraged) to work where you felt most comfortable.  You could sit on the floor and lean against the wall, you could find your own private sanctuary, you could sit in a chair at a desk, you could sit on the floor at a desk...the possibilities are endless!  (Well, endless to the world of a third grader!)

One of the things the Teacher Education Program at UCSB stressed (over and over again) was to always be able to justify everything we do in our classroom.  As long as you can explain your reasoning (and it's relatively legit),  you're basically good to go.  I'm glad I had this training, because I am heading into the school year prepared to explain my motives to every concerned parent who may come my way.  Let's face it, chances are there will be at least one parent who thinks this new teacher has gone crazy. :) But hey!  Although I am new in the grand scheme of things...I am no longer a first year teacher!  And I don't care what anyone says about me being "new"...I got to drop the "first year teacher" label!

A combination of trying alternative seating from the very first day (for the very first time) and making sure I can justify my so called crazy ideas led to lots of thinking and Pinteresting.  Here's some of what I came up with:

1.  Management: The picture below shows a management chart I came across on Rachel Lynette's blog (link in photo caption).  Although I didn't have anything created like this last year, my students understood that they would get one warning if they weren't using their learning space appropriately and, if the behavior continued, I would move them.  They were pretty used to hearing something along the lines of "if you don't choose wisely, I get to choose for you."  I really like this visible chart, especially since I'm starting from the very beginning.  Having something like this displayed will provide a constant reminder about the expectations and help the students remember their warnings.
Found on:

2.  Learning how to use each learning space: Since this will be the first time these students are exposed to learning spaces that are different from desks (and the occasional floor sit), it will be necessary to teach the students how to use each space appropriately.  My current plan is to take the first week-ish of school to talk with the class about the different learning spaces and their best uses.  I'm looking forward to giving the class the responsibility of discovering learning spaces without me telling them what/where all of them are (I trust that they will come up with a space I wouldn't think to introduce!).  Discussions will consist of: number of people that should be in the space at the same time, appropriate volume, what kind of learning could be best done in the space, etc.  For example, many students find it difficult to lie on their tummies when doing a lot of writing so it would be best to choose a space where they are sitting up and can write with ease.

3.  Subs: This is something my class was pretty good with last year, but once again, I had a dream class, so I want to make sure I'm ready for anything this year.  I'm participating in an NGSS Academy this year and will have 5 days out of my classroom; put that together with all those other days we get pulled out, and that's a lot of subs. :( The key here is *fear*.  Not really, but all you teachers know what I mean.  I found success last year because my class knew that I had very high expectations for them and that I meant serious business when it came to sub days.  Alternative seating is a privilege of sorts (someday, however, I hope it becomes more the norm) and breaking the rules leads to loss of privilege.  The day before I'm out, I go over all the expectations with my class so no one can claim the famous "I didn't know."  My sub plans are also extremely detailed: what spaces are options, how many kids can be in each place at once, etc.  Anything a sub may need to know, I write.  I also make it very clear to my class (and to my sub) that while there is a sub in my classroom THEY ARE THE TEACHER.  I don't want to come back to hear about the "but that's not how we do it..." kids.  The subs have the final call, they are the ones that have to survive all day! :) If worst comes to worst, my subs know that they can assign seats.  And an added bonus: name tags.  No assigned seats means no name plates AND kids moving around all day.  That makes it a lot harder for subs to learn names.  Name tags are very helpful!

4. The understanding that there is SO MUCH MORE: As much time as I spend thinking and planning and working and perfecting this system, there will always be something to discover that hasn't yet crossed my path.  And that's ok, because that's what makes this crazy ride so amazing.  And anyway, like always, there's so much up in this head of mine that doesn't make an appearance until after I finish I'll add it as I think it!